After writing last week’s post, I started thinking about what I have read in the past two months. This morning I walked around the house, stacking into my arms exactly those books I have played with lately. They are sitting next to me as I write, two tall piles on my studio work table. The non-fiction pile includes:
Story Genius by Lisa Cron, The Art Of Memoir by Mary Karr, Zen In The Art Of Writing by Ray Bradbury: all on writing process.
Let The Whole Thundering World Come Home by Natalie Goldberg, Terry Pratchett The Spirit Of Fantasy by Craig Cabell, Waking Up In Paris by Sonia Choquette: all memoir and biography.
Freehand by Helen Birch, Your Life In Color by Dougall Fraser: books to feed my artist self, on drawing, and using the energies of color.
Here is the fiction pile, which threatened to tip over and crash when I attempted to alphabetize it:
The Girl In The Tower by Katherine Arden, Sword and Sorceress XII by Marion Zimmer Bradley, Brief Cases by Jim Butcher, Babylon’s Ashes by James S. A. Corey, The Third Nero by Lindsey Davis, There Are No Ghosts In The Soviet Union by Reginald Hill.
Fated by Benedict Jacka, The Outsider by Stephen King, Three Moments Of An Explosion by China Mieville, The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett, The Martian by Andy Weir, An Incomplete Revenge by Jacqueline Winspear.
You already know I love reading, and here are more reasons why.
In how-to books, I learn directly from their content, but I also learn how a writer captures or loses my interest in something that does not contain a obvious or inherent story line. They teach me structure, and the balance between telling and showing–information, instruction, questions, personal example. Ray Bradbury’s book, in particular, shouts his passion for writing. He proves that how-to can be disguised as story and reach into my heart as completely as fiction.
In memoir and biography, I learn how the writer chooses to structure their story, what they choose to tell and to withhold, and how the writer as an individual shows through, or not, in their writing. I learn the ways of telling and obscuring the truths of a life. Again and again I see how easy it is to fool myself into thinking I’ve reached the truth of an experience, when all my words have only bounced off the surface. I learn how I can be both blind and biased in what I choose to express, and admit that to the reader. I learn how I can be honest to the bone.
I love love love reading, and I love love love learning new things. Reading and learning all in one? Probably why I also started writing. These books show me if I want to write, I have to read.
Reading fiction is no less a teacher for me than reading non-fiction. Fiction sets a pushing need in me to write, and the stories continually challenge me to go beyond what is comfortable in what I create. These books set a demand within me that my writing reach their level of story, of structure, of flow. That’s a high bar, but every time I write I work my muscles. I and my words get stronger.
Some of these books swallow me whole, leave me dazed with story when I finish the last page, leave me sitting unable to move or think beyond the words still spinning in the air around me.
That is how I want to write. That is the writer I want to be.